Cast: Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Jaime Lorent, Ricardo Darín, Bárbara Lennie, Inma Cuesta, Carla Campra, Eduard Fernández, Elvira Mínguez, Roger Casamajor, Sara Sálamo, Sergio Castellanos, Ramón Barea, Marianella Rojas
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Running time: 2 hours 13 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
Over the course of an exemplary career, Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi has perfected the domestic melodrama. However, the particular reference points of the genre; (i.e. sensational plotting, big emotions, and stereotypical characters) don’t exactly apply to the Farhadi brand because he’s always been after something more humane. His latest class consciousness thriller, Everybody Knows, allows him the rare opportunity to move away from the tightly restricted areas of Iran and embrace the wide open vistas of Madrid, Spain. The film still deals in usual Farhadian themes—betrayal, familial secrets, economic disparity— but this time the emotional lives of his characters aren’t operating inside an oppressive societal regime. Instead, the early sections of Everybody Knows maintains a light, sun-dappled tone; following working-class farmer, Paco (Javier Bardem), and his ex-lover Laura (Penélope Cruz), a woman of higher social standing who travels from Buenos Aires with her children to attend the wedding of her sister, Ana (Inma Cuesta).
Laura’s family is warm and boisterous (evidenced by the dancing/wine-guzzling wedding ceremony), but also bitter about their fortune being whittled away by her alcoholic husband. The small-town gossip spreads like wildfire as the film’s title suggests, implicating not only Paco and Laura’s past romance, but also the shocking disappearance of one of Laura’s daughters. This plot turn is unsurprising only because Farhadi has used this trick before in his devastating 2015 film About Elly, and the manner in which the family’s buried secrets trickle to the surface is also par for the course. In pictures like The Past and The Salesman, Farhadi managed to couch blunt symbolism and emotional rawness under the template of geographical, socioeconomic, and political specificity; coming off much denser than the usual garden variety melodrama. Unfortunately, Everybody Knows eschews this kind of subtlety; in part because the larger geographical canvas of Spain makes the proceedings less claustrophobic than the director’s Iran-set melodramas.
Whatever the case, Farhadi leans into the genre elements more forcefully here; getting caught up in narrative machinations involving the kidnapped teen, ransom money, and foreboding text messages. Of course, the actual answer to the mystery is never meant to be dramatically satisfying in a Farhadi film. Indeed, it’s the moral quandaries and class divisions which fuel his flawed characters that ultimately matters. However, too much time is spent moving Paco and Laura around like plot chess pieces to bother with the inner turmoil of their shared history, though Bardem and Cruz are infinitely watchable. By the end, it’s clear Farhadi has allowed the obviousness of his symbolism (escaping pigeons, a crumbling church) to overwhelm the emotional power at the heart of his story.
Everybody Knows has the shape and structure of vintage Asghar Farhadi, but lacks the searing humanism which earns its sentiments by actually engaging with the ugliness of human nature. This time, the soap-opera elements which have defined the filmmaker’s work are used not as entry points into the moral contradictions of his characters, but rather, as screenwriting contrivance.